No, Michael Jordan did not face plumbers and UPS drivers

A statistical look into Michael Jordan and Lebron James’ finals teams.

Source: Cavs Nation

A lot of talk has circulated about Michael Jordan and Lebron James’ level of competition during their time. “Jordan faced plumbers and UPS drivers” and “Lebron played in a weak east” are several of the many takes brought up about these two legends and their teams. Using several statistical variables taken from Basketball-Reference, I will argue that not only did Michael Jordan have better teams than Lebron James during their finals runs, but also that Michael Jordan faced tougher competition as well.

The three variables we will be using is the Offensive Rating rank, Defensive Rating rank, and Strength of Schedule (SOS).

Offensive Rating & Defensive Rating ranks will show the teams’ ratings relative to the rest of the league.

According to Basketball-Reference, Strength of Schedule is “the rating [that’s] denominated in points above/below average, where zero is average.” This means that the higher the SOS value is, the more competitive the team’s schedule was.

Here is the data calculated from Basketball-Reference, with Offensive rating before Defensive rating:

Michael Jordan’ Teams:

90–91 Bulls: ORtg: 1st DRtg: 7th SOS: -0.53
91–92 Bulls: ORtg: 1st DRtg: 4th SOS: -0.37
92–93 Bulls: ORtg: 2nd DRtg: 7th SOS: -0.10
95–96 Bulls: ORtg: 1st DRtg: 1st SOS: -0.44
96–97 Bulls: ORtg: 1st DRtg: 4th SOS: -0.11
97–98 Bulls: ORtg: 9th DRtg: 3rd SOS: 0.13

Lebron James’ Teams:

06–07 Cavs: ORtg: 18th DRtg: 4th SOS: -0.50
10–11 Heat: ORtg: 3rd DRtg: 5th SOS: -0.71
11–12 Heat: ORtg: 8th DRtg: 4th SOS: -0.27
12–13 Heat: ORtg: 2nd DRtg: 9th SOS: -0.84
13–14 Heat: ORtg: 5th DRtg: 11th SOS: -0.61
14–15 Cavs: ORtg: 3rd DRtg: 18th SOS: -0.40
15–16 Cavs: ORtg: 3rd DRtg: 10th SOS: -0.55
16–17 Cavs: ORtg: 3rd DRtg: 21st SOS: -0.31
17–18 Cavs: ORtg: 5th DRtg: 29th SOS: -0.35

Conclusion:

Average rating for Jordan’s finals teams: 2.5/4.33 SOS: -0.24

Average rating for Lebron’s finals teams: 5.55/12.33 SOS: -0.50

The initial part of this concludes what we know all along. Michael Jordan had better teams than Lebron James. In a lot of situations, Lebron did not have the best team offensively or defensively (especially in his 17–18 campaign). It’s remarkable how he brought these poorly defensive teams to finals after finals. Also, these teams don’t take into account some of Lebron James’ best ones, such as the ’09 Cavaliers (4th/3rd SOS: -0.25) and the ’10 Cavaliers (6th/7th SOS: -0.36). I even believe that the 08–09 Cavs definitely would have won Finals in this era if they had an extra all-star.

What I also conclude is the Strength of Schedule for both eras. Since Michael Jordan’s teams had a larger SOS than Lebron James’, this proves that Michael Jordan had a fairly more competitive schedule than Lebron did.

A note: since Strength of Schedule makes a fairly equal comparison in competitiveness for teams during their respective years, the SOS would benefits weaker teams more than stronger teams, since a majority of matchups they face are competitive. Therefore, this statistic should benefit Lebron’s teams more than Jordan’s teams. Although, this is not the case.

What’s very impressive to me is that the old declining Bulls during their 97–98 campaign had the toughest schedule out of all teams mentioned above, having a positive SOS value. A positive SOS value shows that they faced a schedule tougher than the average schedule in the league during that time. The fact that they still won 62 games shows that Michael Jordan definitely had one of the greatest teams of all time.

This article is mainly food for thought, but the main takeaways are that statistics proved that during their NBA Finals runs:

  • Michael Jordan had better teams than Lebron James
  • Michael Jordan faced tougher competition than Lebron James